Saturday, August 12. 2006
A Spirit 0f Absolute Folly In Israel
By Ari Shavit
Haaretz 12 August 2006
In the difficult summer of 2006, the State of Israel is declaring in astonishment: They surprised us. They surprised us in a big way. They surprised us with Katyushas and they surprised us with the Al-Fajr rockets and they surprised us with the Zelzal missiles. They surprised us with anti-tank missiles. And they surprised us with the operational skill of the anti-tank squads. They surprised us with the bunkers and the camouflage. They surprised us with the command and monitoring. They surprised us with strategy, fighting ability and a fighting spirit. They surprised us with the astonishing power that a small death-army with low technology and high religious motivation can have.
However, more than they surprised us in Summer 2006 with the strength of Hezbollah, they surprised us this summer with our own weakness. They surprised us with ourselves. They surprised us with the low level of national leadership. They surprised us with scandalous strategic bumbling. They surprised us with the lack of vision, lack of creativity and lack of determination on the part of the senior military command. They surprised us with faulty intelligence and a delusionary logistical network and improper preparedness for war. They surprised us with the fact that the Israeli war machine is not what it once was. While we were celebrating it became rusty.
Generally it is not right to conduct an in-depth investigation of a wartime failure during a war. However, at the end of the most embarrassing year of Israeli defense since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Israeli government is not drawing conclusions. It is not reorganizing the system, there is no evidence of a real learning curve and it is not radiating a new ethos. On the contrary: It is adding another layer of folly onto a previous one. Its slowness to react is dangerous. Its caution is a recipe for disaster. Its attempt to prevent bloodshed is costing a great deal of bloodshed. So that now of all times, just when the forces are moving toward south Lebanon, there is no escaping the question of where we went wrong. It is so that Israel will be able to achieve a last-minute victory and so that the troops will be able to achieve their goals and so the soldiers will be able to return home safely, that we must ask already now: What happened to us? What the hell happened to us?
A simple thing happened: We were drugged by political correctness. The political correctness that has come to dominate Israeli discourse and Israeli awareness in the past generation was totally divorced from the Israeli situation. It did not have the tools to deal with the reality of an existential conflict. It did not have the tools to deal with a reality of an inter-religious and inter-cultural conflict. That is why it focused entirely on the Palestinian issue. It made the baseless assumption that the occupation is the source of evil. It assumed that it is the occupation that is preventing peace and causing unrest and perpetuating the instability.
At the same time, political correctness assumed that Israeli strength is a given. That Israel is insanely strong. Therefore, political correctness disdained any attempt to build and maintain Israeli strength. The defense budget was cut, the values of volunteerism were mocked, the concepts of heroism and fortitude became despicable. Since the Israel Defense Forces was identified as an army of occupation - rather than as an army defending feminists and homo-lesbians from the fanaticism of the Middle East - they had reservations about it, they shook it off and became alienated from it. After all, in the spiritual world of political correctness, power and army have become dirty words.
Any national idea was rejected because of the sanctity of the private sphere. Every cooperative ethos was dismantled in favor of the individual. Power was identified with fascism. Masculinity was publicly condemned. The pursuit of absolute justice was mixed with the pursuit of absolute pleasure and turned the reigning discourse from a discourse of commitment and enlistment to one of protest and pampering.
Another thing happened: We were poisoned with an illusion of normalcy. The State of Israel is fundamentally an abnormal state. Just because it is a Jewish state in an Arab region, and just because it is a Western country in a Muslim region, and just because it is a democratic state in a region of fanaticism and despotism, Israel is in constant tension with its surroundings. On the one hand, because of the situation in which it finds itself, Israel cannot live a life of European normalcy. On the other hand, because of its values and its structure in terms of identity, economics and culture, Israel cannot avoid being a part of European normalcy.
Therefore Israel is in a constant state of basic contradiction. The way to resolve this contradiction is to create a positive anomaly - both ideological and ethical - that will provide an answer to the negative anomaly in which Israel exists. There is no other way: Israel must prepare a defense envelope that will protect its internal environment from the external environment surrounding it. Life in defiance of the environment is an essential part of Israeli existence.
However, in the past generation this cruel insight has dissipated, the delusion has spread that we have overcome our problems and reached a state of tranquility, and that we can live in this place like any other nation. This illusion led to a situation where the positive Israeli anomaly gradually became blurred, and the energies devoted to maintaining the defensive shield that isolates Israel from the region and protects it from this region were drastically reduced. Weakness prevailed. Our willpower was weakened. The bubble so inebriated the Israelis that they didn't bother to surround it with a fortified wall. Therefore, the pressures of the external environment steadily increased - with the terror of 2002 and the Qassams of 2005 and the Katyushas of 2006 - until they penetrated deep inside the Israeli environment. Thus was created the paradox that those who wanted to believe that Israel could be totally normal were the ones who caused it to decline into a chaotic situation of total anomaly and a loss of balance.
Both political correctness and the illusion-of-normalcy spread first and foremost among the Israeli elites. The Israeli public in general has remained for the most part sober and strong. It did not err with illusions of a new Middle East. It did not turn its back on the existential imperative, the defense ethos and the IDF. Even its core values were not destroyed. Therefore, it impressively withstood both the test of terror of 2001-2003 and the test of "fire-on-the-home front" of 2006. It demonstrated an almost British fortitude and continues to do so.
On the other hand, the Israeli elites of the past 20 years have become totally divorced from reality. The capital, the media and the academic world of the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, have blinded Israel and deprived it of its spirit. Their repeated illusions regarding the historical reality in which the Jewish state finds itself, caused Israel to make a navigational error and to lose its way. Their unending attacks, both direct and indirect, on nationalism, on militarism and on the Zionist narrative have eaten away from the inside at the tree trunk of Israeli existence, and sucked away its life force. While the general public demonstrated sobriety, determination and energy, the elites were a disappointment.
Capital brought the illusion-of-normalcy ad absurdum, and established a crushing social-economic regime here that does not suit the historical situation. The academic world promoted political correctness ad absurdum and conducted a somewhat suicidal spirit of criticism here. And the media combined the two and created a hallucinatory state of mind, which combines unbridled consumerism with false righteousness.
Instead of being constructive elites, in the past generation the Israeli elites have become dismantling elites. Each in its own area, each by its own method, dealt with the deconstruction of the Zionism enterprise. Step by step, the top 1000th percentiles abandoned the existential national effort. They stopped doing reserve duty, they stopped sending their sons to the fighting units. They mocked those officers who warned about unilateral withdrawals. They mocked those officers who warned that the emergency warehouses were emptying out and the enemies were becoming stronger. And they deceived themselves and those around them that Tel Aviv is in fact Manhattan. Money is in fact everything. And thus they bequeathed to young Israelis a legacy of values that makes it very difficult for them to attack even when the attack is fully justified. Because a country that lacks equality, that lacks justice and that lacks faith in the rightness of its path, is a country for which it is very difficult to go on the attack. It is a country for which not many are willing to kill and be killed.
And in the Middle East of the 21st century, a country whose young elites find it difficult to kill and be killed for it is a country on borrowed time. A country that cannot endure. So that what is now being revealed before our eyes, as the smoke of the Katyushas continues to rise from the Lebanese thicket, is not a failure of the IDF but a failure of the elites that turned their back on the IDF. What is being revealed now, when Israel cannot properly protect the lives of its citizens, is not problems of command and problems of tactics, but rather deep-seated problems of a society whose elites have abandoned it. It is not Major General Udi Adam or Brigadier General Gal Hirsch who are the problem, it is the Israeli spirit. A spirit that for far too long has been a spirit of stupidity. A spirit of absolute folly.
Usually, the accusation of folly is directed at battle-hungry generals and warmongering politicians. However, at the end of this war, the accusation of folly will be directed at an entire cadre of Israeli opinion-makers and social leaders who lived in a bubble and caused Israel to live in a bubble. The army will be required to put its house in order and to rebuild, but the true anger will be directed toward the elites who failed. Elites who betrayed the trust of a wise, impressive and strong nation.
However, now it is wartime. The citizens of the north are still in bomb shelters, the soldiers of the regular and standing armies are risking their lives in a war that was not properly planned or properly defined and is being conducted poorly. Therefore, what is needed now is to operate quickly, to operate while in motion, in order to strengthen the spirit of those participating in the battle. What is needed is to create immediately a new discourse that will suit the new situation. Without a new spirit and without a new language there will be no victory in the fighting. Therefore, while the war is raging we must find the spirit and we must find the language that we lost in the years preceding the war.
Israel tried with all its soul and all its might to be Athens. However in this place, in this era, there is no future for an Athens without a speck of Sparta. There is no hope for a society-of-life that does not know how to organize itself to deal with death. Therefore, after decades during which the right and the left and the center took Israeli power for granted and wastefully exploited it, now there is no escaping the need to place the renewed building of Israeli power at the top of the agenda. We are returning to the encounter with our fate; returning to what is decreed by the reality of our lives.
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